Wednesday, December 20, 2006

WOLF MOON 3rd January 2007

On 3rd January 2007, the night of the Wolf Moon, SLAG members and friends will be out hunting for wolves in London.

For further details and/or to join us on the night, email


In October 2006 the Athens Surrealist Group and the Group of Czech and Slovak Surrealists jointly held an exhibition in Athens called Fantasy of Reality. Some photographs from the exhibition can be found here. To accompany this exhibition the Athens Surrealist Group also circulated a document titled Rendering the Image Back to its Transmutations, which was subsequently translated into English and circulated around the international Surrealist movement. The text of this document can be found in Greek and English here or in English only here.
Below we have transcribed a discussion of this document between Merl (SLAG) and Nikos Stabakis (Athens Surrealist Group). We are publishing it here as an invitation to you to get involved in the discussion with us, either through the Comments facility of this blog or by email.

From Merl, 12th November
Hello Nikos
It was a real pleasure to hear the news of your exhibition in Athens and to read the paper that accompanied it. I was particularly intrigued by the questionnaire at the exhibition and the forms of interaction that it enabled with the audience. I certainly don't envy you all the task of analysing those 200 questionnaires but I will be waiting very keenly to hear the results. As for the paper issued by your group, most of it of course I agreed with and liked very much. I found the discussion of "being-at-stake" quite elegant. But there are also a few things that I disagree with and/or have questions about. There's an element of the "straw man" to the paper which appears to be arguing with an opponent that doesn't really exist -- or perhaps I had better say, whose existence I don't know about. I don't know who it is who is supposed to have called for Surrealists to cease the creation of images. As far as I am aware, those who have been associated with poetic materialism (which now includes SLAG as well as various people in Stockholm and Madrid) have not done so, for example (and I can't think who else you might have had in mind when writing the paper, although as I say that may just be my ignorance). The poetic materialist critique is not of the creation of images as such but of the material conditions of their exchange and consumption, and of the ways in which those material conditions (according to the argument) inevitably neutralise the images' subversive potential. I take it that your position is that such neutralisation is neither inevitable nor total, and you may be correct, but as it stands there is nothing in the paper to persuade me of this position. A great deal of faith is placed in the power of the image, but it appears simply as faith: the paper simply asserts that images continue to have revolutionary/subversive powers, without addressing the concrete material conditions which would make those powers actualisable. If you reject the analysis of society which is offered in, say, The False Mirror then you need to say what alternative analysis you are proposing, so that we can really weigh up the arguments on either side. Of course I realise that this was just a short paper and not intended to be a long or detailed social analysis, but it points to larger questions which I think are important and which it would be fruitful for all of us to discuss at much greater length.

From Nikos, 12th November
Hi Merl,
Now, if total agreements are perhaps impossible when it comes to finding ways to operate within, and against, a context that tends to assimilate all subversive intervention, the important point is that the desirous function of images precedes their aesthetic and/or commercial uses. The problem is whether the rejection of images produced for 'aesthetic contemplation' may indeed problematize all pictorial production, or whether the conditions under which images are perceived may be adapted to alternative kinds of presentation and encourage an authentically interactive relationship to their perceivers/co-creators. A statement to the effect that the surrealist movement exists and involves a whole different set of priorities than the establishment or repetition of a 'style' was one of the exhibition's major points, another one being the impressive response to the questionnaires. But, this being an evolving set of practices, it is important to point out that being fully aware of the many pitfalls plaguing pictorial expression neither provides a ready way to annul the said pitfalls nor should encourage the temptation to withdraw from such expression altogether--a temptation that does exist, to the very extent that a sense of futility underlies thus the actualisation of images. If «such neutralisation» actually is inevitable and/or total, should the image cease to manifest itself--and, if not, how might it be articulated and distributed, other than in the context of an evolving discourse that would increasingly tend to reject the official surroundings of 'aesthetic consumption'? If the paper seems an open question, so be it--but can it be any other way? It is not about 'straw men,' but rather about dealing with implicit questions: do the identified difficulties regarding subversive potential ultimately preclude the expression of images that actually occur, and if not how should these be articulated? And how could they involve their receivers in a discourse other than that of passive consumption?
I'd be interested to know SLAG's views on how these matters may be concretely dealt with.

From Merl, 29th November
I think there are two points on which I am doubtful about your argument, and I should start by stressing that they are doubts (in the sense of an evolving discourse and set of practices) rather than hard-and-fast objections.
Firstly, you say that "the desirous function of images precedes their aesthetic and/or commercial uses". I am not so sure. This seems to rest on a notion that desire is somehow pre-social, pre-cultural, existing in/arising from some pristine realm of the mind or body which has not yet been corrupted by the Spectacle. I don't believe in such purity of desire. Desire always comes into being in the context of pre-existing material conditions, and is shaped (though not of course wholly determined) by those conditions. That is why, for example, Trost & Luca (in that paper I can't stop quoting because I adore it so much) declare war on Oedipal desire -- it both arises from and perpetuates a particular set of material conditions which are inimical to freedom. (It's also why I rejected the notion of desire as primary to eroticism in that erotic manifesto Paul Cross and I wrote at the beginning of this year.) The fact that images, automatic or otherwise, spring from desire does not mean that they are not already implicated in the Spectacle, because desire itself is already so implicated. This would mean that surrealists need to conduct some serious interrogation of desire as such, rather than appeal to it as a guarantor of integrity, validity or authenticity. I would see this as an important post-bretonian development in surrealism, and it's one of the tasks I am personally most engaged with.
Secondly, this whole discussion appears to rest on the unquestioned assumption that images must somehow be expressed. Must they? Why? Let's just imagine for example that we really did give into this supposed temptation to cease the distribution of images. What disaster would befall us? Wouldn't that actually be quite an interesting experiment -- to cease all circulation of images for a limited period, just to see what else might start happening instead? Ok, I'm being deliberately provocative, but not idly so; I truly don't see why we should take it for granted that "the image must not cease to manifest itself", and I certainly don't see why we should necessarily be afraid to experiment in that direction. It could prove fruitful, in ways that might surprise us and that might generate some genuinely new surrealist discoveries.
As for how SLAG deals concretely with these matters -- well, all group activity is constantly in a state of flux of course, and even more so in our case at the moment when there are new people at the meetings and new ideas, schemes and priorities being thrown into the pot all the time. But in terms of concrete priorities for group activity, I think it's fair to say that we are all agreed that public exhibitions, or other types of events which place people in the position of the "audience", are not something we consider interesting or important for us to do. Our focus of discussion and activity in the last few months has been very game-based, with a strong emphasis on participation and poetic experience rather than on the production of images, objects or texts (although of course these do tend to get produced sometimes anyway, but we would see them I think as by-products rather than as ends in themselves). Some of the new people are less interested in games as such, and are trying to develop other forms of activity but always with an emphasis on participation and experience.

From Nikos, 30th November
I think your doubts refer to deliberately open questions on my part rather than ready arguments. One actually unequivocal statement ("the desirous function precedes etc.") merely refers to the conditions of the image's emergence as opposed to its reappropriation by institutional culture (that is, the urge to see and show, however 'innocent' or not, as opposed to producing a work that ends up assuring one's artistic credentials, being used to promote products and otherwise guaranteeing the neat and harmless sectorization of the image). Of course it is a reappropriation insofar as it emerges from material conditions in the first place, and thus is in no way pure; so, can its origins be profoundly questioned and subverted--would/should a desire whose essence is not a pre-social purity but the sole principles of transformation and incompleteness then manifest itself, and if not how and why? If we try in practice the (conditional or not) abolition of images, would not other parts of our lives (including dream of course) be invested with a kind of otherwise unfulfilled potential that, granted, far from being a sign of purity, nevertheless exists? Would the ceasing of images not actually inform/condition the interesting things that might certainly happen then, and which are no less subject to material factors? The thing is, it is not really a matter of 'disagreement,' insofar as we are faced with the question of where the said 'interesting things' in general come from and where they lead us ('somewhere,' Breton was right on this count--to the extent that we are never aware that this 'somewhere' has been definitively reached). So if we accept such a limited (or indeed unlimited) stop on the flow of images, this could work as an experiment (as you put it), that is, an organized effort (which we may all agree upon and follow through). But by being an experiment it would still refer to the lack that shaped it. (And here we need more details: what form would it take? Would that involve dreams, and why are these not pictorial/susceptible to appropriation from the Spectacle? Would this 'lack' be felt as such, and if so would not the desire for image provide the outline to whatever 'happened'?)
I don't know, of course, to what extent exhibitions are particularly important or interesting in general, other than as a way to negotiate the possibilities for people to not be treated as 'audience,' even though they may think they are that upon visiting. To us, it actually was important for the extra reason that it pointed out our international perspective and helped generate awareness of groups. This is why we incorporated, not only the text you've read, which at least begins to pose some points for discussion, but also a questionnaire that encouraged interaction, even criticism. Obviously, nothing can provide absolute safety from some kind of 'authoritarianism' on the group's part, insofar as the responses are somehow bound to be assessed, and some may be seen as 'forced' in any case, but again it at least tries to pose questions. One in particular being, how do we actually, practically relate to people who are outside a group? Should we bother to establish such a connection? As we've agreed, you can hardly do this in the context of a poetry reading, obviously, and there are few possibilities by and large. Publication is one, but of what kind? And so forth.

From Merl, 8th December
All of the questions you ask about what might happen if we ceased the display/circulation of images (whether and how dreams would be included, how the lack itself would shape the outcome of the experiment, how the unfulfilled potential might shift to other parts of our lives) are good ones, and what's more they are questions that cannot be answered a priori but only by actually conducting the experiment. In fact you may be on the way to inadvertently persuading me that we really should conduct this experiment after all, to find out what would happen to the imagination, desire, creativity etc. under such conditions. Maybe something interesting would come out of the experiment, maybe not. I think the movement should be ready to make such experiments and to take the risk that they may occasionally fail or meet dead-ends.
Of course I agree with you about the need to communicate outside the group, and indeed outside the movement. But I'm by no means sure that exhibitions are an effective way to do that, at least not if what one wants to communicate is the experience of the Marvellous itself, or the possibility of revolutionary change on any level. Of course if one simply wants to demonstrate the ongoing (and international) existence of the surrealist movement, then an exhibition is as good a way of doing that as any, and may be no better or worse in that respect than a poetry reading. But if one wants to communicate something more than the simple fact of our existence, I don't think exhibitions in themselves are going to do it. Of course you made this event more interactive with the questionnaire and so on, and the question really is what you will do next with all of that material, and how if at all the respondents might be provoked into any kind of genuinely poetic experience of their own beyond the simple pleasure (or not) of looking at the images in the exhibition. I don't know the answer to that question, which is why I think we might need to conduct some fairly radical experiments to try to figure it out.

From Nikos, 8th December
I'm not sure either. This particular exhibition happened in the context of a comic magazines festival, which by and large draws hordes of more or less young people, some of whom are reasonably interesting; of course, by the same stroke, it attracts very few visitors of the National Gallery. The fact that so many were seriously interested in the exhibition was, to me, more important than any poetry reading could ever be. But I don't think that exhibitions can go very far in themselves; we are not likely to pursue this systematically, in fact this was but a fairly successful attempt to spread some info on the actuality of surrealism. To that extent, it was not without its merits, but that is all.
The question is, how we can organize an experiment of the sort you envision, and what its possible outcome would have to offer in terms of conclusions regarding future ventures. If the experiment refers explicitly to the (temporary or not) rejection of imagistic expression, it will thereby immediately draw attention to the importance of images, and this is the main problem I can identify, especially insofar as very few of us in the international movement are really involved in image-making as what one might call a 'specialty'; for instance, I did exhibit (for the first and very likely the last time) some of the pictures/collages that occurred from my participation in a collective game, but the visible nature of the said pictures made it clear that they did not derive from a wish to create an artistic oeuvre; so I wonder what my, and many other people's, participation in such an experiment would be--perhaps the abolition of any image-making process, which would obviously include poetry as well. You have to make this clear and set specific rules. Then I'm all for it, although as I said I'm not sure what exactly it would involve.

From Merl, 13th December
Well, I'm not making a serious concrete proposal about this experiment, or at least not yet. I'm just speculating and hypothesising here. Maybe once we've had a bit of time for the new members of SLAG to settle in and consolidate the group we could start thinking about it more seriously. Yes, I agree that any proposal to suspend the production of images would itself focus attention on images, but I don't see that as a problem, on the contrary it would be a good opportunity for us all to step back and think about the place of image-making in Surrealism. I don't agree that it would also involve the suspension of poetry, since what's at issue is very specifically the place of the visual in contemporary consumer culture.

From Nikos, 13th December
Why is not poetry involved in this? The surrealist image tends to become visible--"Donner à voir," as Eluard (yes, I know...) famously put it. Of course, in poetry it is not stabilized, as in a painting or photo, but does it not derive from the same materials as a visual work, whilst of course being less patronizing in its imposition of an ultimate form? Those surrealist pictorial works whose principles were most enthusiastically appropriated by the cultural establishment in its numerous forms are precisely those that retain the sharply dialectical essence of an elementary automatic phrase/image, only to be contained by their integration into spectacular consumption. This, as I've said, does not mean that the principle behind their occurrence was dictated by their subsequent use.
Besides, is not poetry equally problematic for the exact opposite reason? Unlike painting, film or photography, poetry--to the extent that it remains in the realm of written expression, as opposed to plainly 'lived' poetry--is simultaneously cheap to produce/consume and stupidly 'precious.' I'm obviously referring to the standard non-surrealist lot, as in "so-and-so is a poet," but printed poetry or poetry readings cannot be totally removed from the realm of an increasingly obsolete cultural institution. Might not (and I'm also speculating here) the knowing use of images within a culture governed by the Spectacle incorporate a criticism that would be more socially/culturally relevant? Perhaps not, but how can writing get away with it, when it is immediately claimed by 'literary expression/experimentation'?
The reason I insist on concrete proposals is that otherwise we cannot but either accept the continuing propagation of images to start with or denounce it out of hand. This is why one feels the need to explain oneself in the case of, say, an exhibition--as in our text; this cannot go very far, but is an initial clarification as to why, at this stage at least, there is an actual choice to be made. So we need to move beyond merely opposing the aesthetic or consumerist use of images, and into analyzing what the images mean to us and how we can perhaps destroy their allure by pointing out either their distortion by standardized use or their dubious nature.

From Merl, 17th December
The knowing use of images to incorporate social/cultural criticism is of course the purpose (or one of the purposes) of practices such as détournement, which was being deployed by surrealists long before the situationists got hold of it. It probably still has such potential in certain cases, but always greatly weakened by its incorporation into popular cultural forms, notably advertising.
The reason why poetry is not in the same position as visual images in relation to the Spectacle is because of the fundamentally visual nature of the latter. In the Society of the Spectacle, alienation takes place not just through the mediation of human relationships by commodities (i.e. good old-fashioned commodity fetishism) but through the mediation of human relationships by images. Of course, any and all cultural forms in general are commodified under such conditions, including poetry, but the point about the Spectacle is that it involves something more than the commodification of culture in the good old-fashioned sense -- something more even than the commodification of images -- it involves commodification by images. That's the whole point of the critique of the image which some of us have been making. Of course, as you have already said, we're talking here about poetry in the narrow "cultural" sense of the written (or spoken) word, and not about poetry in its widest (truest) surrealist sense, the poetry that is lived. It's precisely in the name of that true poetry that the Spectacle must be overthrown, as you certainly don't need me to tell you!
Before one can make concrete proposals for any kind of experiment or other activity one must first spend time discussing ideas and formulating hypotheses, which is precisely what I think you and I have been doing in this discussion so far ...

From Nikos, 18th December
The persistent point is, where do you draw the line? The reason I mentioned poetry is precisely that the Spectacle cannot be just about innocent images that become commodified but, rather, about human activities themselves becoming commodified by images, irrespective of the original urge underlying the latter's emergence. So "standard" poetry, whilst using speech, still derives from a desire for image, and therefore draws from the same array of materials as that which feeds potential images; how else can one understand the mediation of experience by image? Lived poetry itself, dealing as it would be with a rearrangement of the visible world's aspects according to some notion of desire, would thus still be informed by already consumed images; so, 'critique' may well mean 'subversive use,' and the utilitarian nature of advertising (the closure it effects upon image) is a historically possible context for such subversive play. Other than that, we have certainly been discussing the possibility of ideas, as opposed to actual ideas, so we need to move beyond that.

The Madrid Surrealist Group's document The False Mirror, to which Merl and Nikos occasionally refer, can be found in English here. SLAG's response to The False Mirror can be found here.
The concept of the Society of the Spectacle was first elaborated by Guy Debord, whose key writings on the subject can be found in English here and here.
Parts of the discussion above touch on issues which have also been raised by the Stockholm Surrealist Group's recent document Voices of the Hell Choir, which can be found as a blog entry here or as a pdf file here.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

INVOCATION OF DARKNESS on the night of 20th - 21st December

The night of Winter Solstice this year coincides with the New Moon. This happens only once every nineteen years.

It means that the longest night of the year will also be the darkest.

We urge all our Surrealist comrades, friends and fellow travellers in the northern hemisphere to make use of this exceptional darkness in whatever way you see fit ...

or, even better, to allow it to make use of you ...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Laws of Motion, SLAG's theoretical discussion paper on dialectics and analogy, has provoked a lively international debate.

To read the comments so far, and/or to add comments of your own, click here.

To receive a copy of the paper in English, French or Spanish, email us at

Friedrich Engels

"This morning when I was in bed I had some dialectical ideas about the natural sciences."
(Engels to Marx, 30 May 1873)
photo by Paul Cowdell

Friday, December 08, 2006

By affinity the lovers daily resemble each other more and more

by Paul Cowdell

At the School of Homuncular Research

by Paul Cowdell

SANS TITRE #4/UNTITLED #4: text by Dominic Tétrault

Enchantes-moi avec tes perles suaves
Celles qui courent dans le pré de poils,
De grands loups qui poussent la clôture
Qui pardonnera la charge sanguine
De ce qui était et demeure.

Une glace de circonvolution
Et les apprêts nuageux d’une main
Qui cherche son chemin
Vers les poches.

Encore la combustion de retour.

Un cran d’arrêt qui s’éteint,
Laissant place au bruit guerrier
Qui terrasse et croissant de lune.
Pourquoi pas?

Enchant me with your sweet pearls
Those that run in the fury meadow,
Great wolves that push the fence
Who will forgive the blood load
Of what was and remains.

A self-centered mirror
And the cloudy finishes of a hand
Who looks for his way
Towards the pockets.

Again the return of combustion.

A gun notch which dies out,
Leaving room to the warrior noise
Who terrace and crescent of the moon.
Why not?

Montreal, December 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006


Photo by Genevieve Rainey
Title from a text found by Merl while playing the Urban Rock Pooling game in London

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Image by Carlos Martins

Our comrades in the Surrealist Group of Portugal have announced the death of Mario Cesariny, 26th November 2006.
Cesariny has been widely regarded as the leading poet and activist of Portuguese Surrealism since the inception of the Grupo Surrealista de Lisboa in 1947.

Monday, November 27, 2006


A game devised by Paul Cowdell.

photo by Merl

SLAG members and friends will be playing this game in central London
on Sunday 3rd December.

For further details and/or how to join us on the day,

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

POETRY MUST BE MADE BY ALL: Debbie, Fiona, Mair, Mark, Merl, Miguel & Paul, 29th October 2006


(a game devised by Paul Cowdell)

To Miguel:
Mice insert gasping undulating expectations lavishly.
Most indignant gastropods usurp every level.
Magic is growing under every language.
Marvellous intentions gush uselessly, especially loquacious.
Monstrous involuntary goalposts upturned ensure limpets.
Mixes in groups using entertaining levers.
Mankind is grown up electronically liberated.
Manipulating images gathers unusual energy leeward.
Making incredible games usually explodes laziness.

From Miguel:
My English romantic learner.
Prisoner assault 'uman location.

Friday, October 27, 2006


From the film Surpasrealiste (2006)

From the film Link (2006)

Monday, October 23, 2006


Over the past few months a controversy has unfolded over the statements and activities of the Derrame group in Chile. The Surrealist groups of Madrid and Río de la Plata have denounced the Derrame group’s political behaviour, claiming that it has worked in partnership with the Chilean state and cultural institutions on the one hand while refusing to engage in radical political struggle on the other. They have also denounced the theoretical statements Derrame has made in support of its political behaviour. For its part, the Derrame group has responded to these accusations by denying some of them and offering explanations or justifications for others; and the Paris Surrealist Group has stated its friendship and solidarity with Derrame in the face of the accusations.*

Many of the exchanges between Río de la Plata and Derrame in particular have revolved around specific accusations: that the Derrame group has committed certain acts of collaboration (the pursuit of state honours and prizes, accepting funding or support from certain academic and cultural institutions and so on) and has failed to perform others (to participate in or support specific political strikes or protests, for example). As the Madrid group’s open letter to Paris points out, different Surrealist groups worldwide find themselves facing different material and political conditions, and must make their own tactical decisions accordingly. The Madrid group state plainly that in their view Derrame’s compromises with the Chilean state and ruling class have not been merely tactical but amount to a strategy which is in no way compatible with Surrealism. We in SLAG will not pretend to know enough about the political situation in Chile to form an independent judgement on these matters. But we are dismayed by some of the theoretical statements the Derrame group has made, which do indeed seem to us to be incompatible with some of the basic principles of Surrealism, and on these principles we are in the firmest possible solidarity with our comrades in Madrid and Río de la Plata.

In a letter of 2005 to the Madrid Surrealist Group, the Derrame group writes:

In Latin America at present we propose a Surrealism that is ceremonial, shamanistic, closer to magic and poetry than to 'materialism'. We could say that it chooses a more poetic, cosmic and spiritual way, like the old mayas, aztecs, incas, kawesqar, selknam.. It is not about looking for what is new, but a matter of rediscovering what was already on the continent for thousands of years. […] Do you think that European Surrealism is different from Latin American Surrealism, or vice versa?

This formulation of “Latin American Surrealism” has justly provoked the anger of our friends in both Madrid and Río de la Plata. It is unambiguous in its rejection of historical materialism. The idea of “Surrealism” as some innate force waiting for thousands of years to be “rediscovered” sounds to our ears too much like Jean Schuster’s notion of the “eternal surrealism” which supposedly “escap[es] history in its latent continuity” (“The Fourth Canto”, 1969). For Schuster the idea of “eternal surrealism” served as an alibi for the abandonment of concrete Surrealist activity in Paris; for Derrame the similarly idealist and undialectical notion of “Latin American Surrealism” is an alibi for the abandonment of the Surrealist principle of materialism. Vratislav Effenberger (cited in “The Platform of Prague Twenty Years On”, 1989) famously replied to Schuster that “this supra-historical and non-ideological conception of surrealism has clearly existed and still exists, and you know quite as well as I do on what side of the barricade”. We make exactly the same reply to this notion of “Latin American Surrealism”.

More recently, in its reply to the Surrealist groups of Madrid and Río de la Plata, the Derrame group appears to retreat somewhat from the notion of “Latin American Surrealism”. While still speaking of “the cosmic mystery of the continent”, Derrame now makes clear that each continent has its own “cosmic mystery”, so that Latin America is not superior in this regard over Europe; and that while the group is insistent on the importance of Latin American geography and cultures, it also embraces the influence of European, African and other cultures. In this context the group now asserts that it is “in favour of hybridity, cosmopolitanism and humanity”. There are two points we want to make about this. Firstly, this qualification of “Latin American Surrealism” is explicitly not a reversal of their earlier rejection of materialism. When Derrame in this new statement asserts that “our rebellion is spiritual and our works are the best means of resistance,” its is clear that the group means this instead of materialist and political resistance, rather than alongside or in dialectical relationship with it. Secondly, this vision of “hybridity” and “cosmopolitanism”, in which each continent now gets to have its own latent cosmic surrealism awaiting rediscovery, is just as idealist and undialectical as the notion of “Latin American Surrealism” – because it is simply the same notion, multiplied by the number of continents. It might also be instructive here to refer to recent Surrealist attacks, by Annie le Brun and Michael Richardson respectively, on conceptions of créolité and hybridity which, by producing a superficial and clichéd relativism, effectively mask oppression, mystify cultural identity and neutralise revolt. What is essential to Surrealism is not the assertion of cultural identities or the creation of aesthetic works – “hybrid”, “cosmopolitan” or otherwise – but the instigation of continuous revolt as a dialectic between universal freedom and local possibilities.

Although these exchanges between Madrid, Río de la Plata and Derrame were initiated by the pamphlet published by Río de la Plata in January 2006, in a deeper sense the real substance of the dispute is the Madrid Surrealist Group’s statement “El Falso Espejo/The False Mirror” which appeared in 2000. With the exception of the letter from Paris, all of the contributions to the Derrame dispute so far have referred explicitly to this paper and justified their positions in relation to it. Indeed the formulation of “Latin American Surrealism” quoted above comes from the Derrame group’s response to this paper, and is explicitly intended as a counter-argument to it. In this sense the recent crisis over “Latin American Surrealism” is just the latest phase in a slow-burning debate over the argument advanced in “The False Mirror” in favour of poetic materialism. Poetic materialism is a strategy to deal with the objectively new material conditions now facing Surrealism worldwide, that is to say, with globalised media-culture and its specific forms of alienation, which are best summed up in the phrase “the Society of the Spectacle”. It proposes an orientation of Surrealist activity away from the production of visual materials – which the Spectacle can assimilate all too easily to its own ends – and more firmly towards the poetic praxis of everyday life. While the revolution of everyday life has always been a core Surrealist principle, the strategic implications of poetic materialism are nevertheless potentially huge for a movement whose stock-in-trade has hitherto been exhibitions and other visual productions. What is at issue is no longer just the rejection of art and its institutions, but the strategic refusal to produce works, especially visual works, for the aesthetic contemplation of an audience at all. In this context the Derrame group’s retreat into ahistorical idealism makes perfect sense as the avoidance, conscious or otherwise, of the necessity for Surrealism to change if it is to survive the historical conditions against which, with our respective local tactics, we all struggle.

Surrealism is neither eternal nor cosmic – no more so than the forms of oppression against which we revolt. The political and social structures of capitalism have undergone profound changes in the last few decades, not least in response to the challenges it has faced from those who have struggled to destroy it. If we wish to continue to struggle in the name of Eros, freedom, poetry and love, and if we wish to do so effectively, then we will have to develop new strategies for these new conditions. Those who have come out in opposition to the strategy of poetic materialism during the Derrame affair so far seem to have done so by abandoning materialism altogether. Rather than retreat to the collective and individual consolations of aesthetic production, Surrealists would do better to have an urgent international debate about strategy – not just to test and evaluate poetic materialism, but to develop a range of possible strategies which could face up squarely to what is new in today’s material conditions without losing sight of Surrealism’s core aims and principles. We must not allow our enemies to outsmart or outrun us: we have to keep thinking, and keep moving.

*The sequence of events as we understand it is as follows:
1. The Río de la Plata Surrealist Group publishes the pamphlet Unmistakable Miserabilism Signs, denouncing the Derrame group (January 2006).
2. The Paris Surrealist Group sends a letter of support to the Derrame group, offering solidarity with them in the face of the pamphlet (July 2006).
3. The Madrid Surrealist Group writes an open letter to the Paris group in which it sets out its opposition to the Derrame group and its support for Río de la Plata (July 2006).
4. Enrique Lechuga writes an open letter to the Madrid group protesting at remarks about his website ( (August 2006).
5. The Derrame group writes a response to defend itself against accusations by both the Madrid and Río de la Plata Surrealist Groups (August 2006).
6. The Río de la Plata Surrealist Group issues its response to Derrame’s defence (August 2006).

Friday, October 13, 2006


In response to enquiries about the alleged censorship of their current Hans Bellmer exhibition (see previous post), the Whitechapel Gallery has sent copies of two statements, one of their own and one from the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The statements are as follows:

    "Over 200 works by the artist Hans Bellmer are currently displayed at the Whitechapel Gallery, London in an exhibition organised by the Centre Pompidou, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris. Though smaller than the original Paris exhibition due to the Whitechapel’s smaller exhibition spaces, the works displayed in London were selected in close consultation with the exhibition's curators Agnes de la Beaumelle and Alain Sayag and with the Whitechapel’s curator Anthony Spira.
    "The exhibition continues at the Whitechapel Gallery until 19 November 2006."
    "Centre Pompidou has today issued a statement in response to articles that have appeared with regard to the Hans Bellmer exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. The exhibition was shown at Centre Pompidou from 1 March to 22 May 2006.
    "Centre Pompidou confirms that, as a result of the smaller space available for the exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the whole selection of works displayed at the institution in Paris could not be shown in London. The Bellmer works that are not included in the display in London are no more or less shocking for certain visitors than those that are in the show.
    "For further information, please contact
    Roya Nasser, Director of Communications, Centre Pompdiou
    Telephone number + 33 6 24 97 72 29"
As far as we are aware, none of the parties involved has ever disputed that the Whitechapel Gallery lacks space in comparison with the Pompidou. What is in dispute is the Whitechapel's rationale for deciding which of the works to omit from its smaller version of the exhibition. The article in Le Monde alleged that the excluded works were removed on the grounds of their supposed offensiveness to local Muslims. These carefully worded statements from the two galleries in effect neither confirm nor deny those allegations, because they do not explain the basis on which the selections for removal were made. If the missing works were not selected for removal on the grounds of offensiveness, on what grounds were they selected? It is precisely by stonewalling on this question that the statements have achieved their aim, namely, to "kill" the story before it reaches the mainstream British press.

Friday, October 06, 2006


If the origin of my work is a scandal, it is because, for me, the world is a scandal.
Hans Bellmer

This magnificent quote from Bellmer appears as the epigraph to the current exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, the first major retrospective of Bellmer’s work in the UK. Surrealists make their own scandal, but not in conditions of their own making. In Whitechapel, it seems, the scandal of Bellmer has taken a new turn.

The French newspaper Le Monde has today reported that the Whitechapel Gallery has censored its own Bellmer exhibition. Since this story has not (yet) been picked up by the UK press, let us summarise Le Monde’s account. This exhibition, originally mounted at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, arrived at the Whitechapel in September, and twelve pieces were removed from the exhibition the day before it opened to the London public. The gallery’s explanation for this to Le Monde was simply lack of space. But Agnès de la Baumelle, the curator of the exhibition, told Le Monde that the works had been personally removed by Iwona Blazwick, the Whitechapel Gallery Director, as an act of censorship. According to Baumelle, Blazwick had described the works in question as “sulphurous” and had declared that they would be dangerous to exhibit not just because of their “paedophile” overtones but also because the area of Whitechapel has a large Muslim population. Baumelle herself has protested at the works’ removal, as have two of the collectors who loaned items for the exhibition. One of the collectors has threatened to withdraw all of his loans from the exhibition unless the twelve censored works are reinstated.

Self-censorship by cultural institutions has become commonplace in “liberal-democratic” states since September 2001. But if Baumelle’s account is correct, and as Le Monde notes, the removal of these works takes self-censorship to a new level. The censored works are not themselves directly blasphemous and have no overt religious content: according to Baumelle, they have been deemed offensive to Muslims simply by virtue of their eroticism, and without any Muslims (or anyone else) having made any actual complaint about them whatever. We surely do not need to labour the underlying racism of such an action, which would assume that local Muslims are (a) a homogeneous mass, (b) uniformly sexually regressive and (c) incapable of critical engagement with these works which they have been prevented from seeing. As Director Designate in March 2001, Blazwick told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that one of the things she liked about the Whitechapel Gallery was the “interesting” location with its “variety of communities”, and that “the Whitechapel should be there to ask questions”. Perhaps these works have been removed because some of those “communities” are now regarded as incapable of understanding the questions.

What can be done about the apparent censorship of Bellmer in London? There are various options, depending on our political proclivities and tactical preferences. We could challenge the Whitechapel Gallery itself to confirm or deny the account given by Baumelle to Le Monde. We could protest to – or indeed at – the gallery and demand that the works be returned to the exhibition. On a deeper political level, we can engage in long-term political action to oppose the conditions which make such censorship not just possible but inevitable: the culture industry in which art is an object of consumption for customers (no doubt including protestors outside art galleries) who complain if they don’t like the product; the “multiculturalism” which claims to respect diversity while trading on identitarianism, essentialism and (real or imagined) religious idiocy; the “liberal-democratic” public sphere which stifles dissidence in the name of diversity, desire in the name of public safety, and poetry in the name of taste. But above all we can and must continue to practise Surrealism as practical revolution in everyday life – not an artform to be tolerated as free speech, exhibited in galleries or debated in the press, not even a “lifestyle” to be celebrated among others, but a state of erotic fury, a total and uncompromising revolt, a concrete utopia to be lived, NOW, with all the urgency of desire.

On one point we do agree with the comments ascribed to Blazwick: Bellmer really is sulphurous. Our opponents may not be wrong, after all, to be afraid of him. “Here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first freethinker and the emancipator of worlds” (Bakunin). More brimstone!

The article in Le Monde can be found here.
Details of the Bellmer exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery can be found here.
The Whitechapel Gallery's email address is
Iwona Blazwick's telephone number at the gallery is 020 7522 7890.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


A new theoretical discussion paper
on dialectics, analogy and Surrealist poetics
from SLAG - the Surrealist London Action Group.

This paper is available in English as a pdf file (0.3MB).
French and Spanish translations are also available
(by Dominic Tétrault and Juan Carlos Otaño respectively).
To request a copy and/or to join our mailing list, email SLAG at

Thursday, September 28, 2006


"No matter what happens in the fashionable neighbourhoods and the Champs Elysées, surrealism continues."
André Breton

born 18th February 1896
died 28th September 1966

Monday, September 25, 2006


The album of material generated during the summer as part of the London International Festival of Surrealism is now in preparation.


Alexandre Fatta
Bruno Jacobs
Celia Gourinsky (Río de la Plata Surrealist Group)
Christian Andersson (Stockholm Surrealist Group)
David Nadeau
Debbie Shaw
Dominic Tétrault
Emma Lundenmark (Stockholm Surrealist Group)
Eugenio Castro (Madrid Surrealist Group)
Fiona Green
Jenny Berntson
Jill Fenton
John Andersson (Stockholm Surrealist Group)
Jonas Enander (Stockholm Surrealist Group)
Josie Malinowski
Juan Carlos Otaño (Río de la Plata Surrealist Group)
Julio Monteverde (Madrid Surrealist Group)
Kalle Eklund (Stockholm Surrealist Group)
Kathleen Fox
Leandro Ramírez (Río de la Plata Surrealist Group)
M K Shibek (Portland Surrealist Group)
Mair Davies
Mariela Arzadun (Río de la Plata Surrealist Group)
Martin Marriott (Seattle Surrealist Group)
Mattias Forshage (Stockholm Surrealist Group)
Merl (SLAG)
Micke Lundberg (Styx Group)
Mike Gladeston
Mónica Marchesky (Río de la Plata Surrealist Group)
Nacho Diaz
Ñancu Rupay (Río de la Plata Surrealist Group)
Niklas Nenzén (Stockholm Surrealist Group)
Nikos Stabakis (Athens Surrealist Group)
Oscar McLennan
Parry Harnden
Paul Cowdell
Paul Cross (SLAG)
Stephen Maddison
Suzanne Alexandrian
Ulrika Gomm
Wedgwood Steventon

Sunday, September 10, 2006


On the night of 6th September, for no apparent reason, Merl (of SLAG) dreamt about Martin Marriott (of the Seattle Surrealist Group). Merl was on a train and, to her surprise and pleasure, Martin suddenly got into the same carriage. He was carrying an unmanageably large though mostly empty suitcase which he had trouble stowing; he ended up putting it on top of Merl's suitcase and squashing it by accident, and the other people in the carriage made rather a fuss. It turned out that Martin was going to be staying on the train longer than Merl, because Merl was only going as far as France, whereas he was going all the way to Africa.

The following morning Merl noticed that Martin had unexpectedly sent some emails with attachments to the SLAG email address, but did not have time to read them before going to work.

Later that day, on the way home from work, Merl noticed in the street a pile of abandoned bags and luggage on top of which lay a large foam skull, evidently part of a fancy dress costume. At that point she did not associate the bags in the street with the suitcases in the dream.

Photo by Merl

As soon as Merl got home she read the emails and downloaded the attachments, which turned out to be photos and collages made by Martin. One of the collages was titled Man with Suitcase. The figure in the collage had a skull head.

When Merl immediately reported this striking incident of objective chance to Martin, he replied:

"The collage has been sitting around untitled until I was sending it out last night. I decided last night to call it that, it came suddenly, and in a way that said it was now unalterable. Afterwards, before bed, I happened to ponder it again, for no more than a second, yet it was the only title that did come back to me with any kind of question-mark. The thought came to me that in a way it was a bit odd as, the size of the case, compared to the size of the man, is much smaller than a 'suitcase' he would actually have. This thought never took any purchase however, and was immediately replaced with a simple thought, 'no, it's the right title.' and that was the end of that."

Man with Suitcase, collage by Martin Marriott

Friday, August 18, 2006


There are currently two Surrealist groups in London: the Surrealist London Action Group (i.e. us) and the London Surrealist Group. The co-existence of two groups in the same city may seem confusing, and we do sometimes receive enquiries from people who are not sure why the two groups exist or which is which. This confusion is cleared up fairly straightforwardly.

All the activity of the Surrealist London Action Group (SLAG) is based on principles of Surrealism and revolutionary anarchism, which we regard as indivisible. Our main strategic priorities are to foster international collaboration and activity, and to develop the programme of poetic materialism. In addition to our two manifestos, we have issued a number of political and theoretical statements on this blog outlining our positions on questions of atheism, sexuality, academia, patriarchy, psychogeography, state repression, popular culture and many other topics (all available in the blog archive).

The current core-members of SLAG are former members of the London Surrealist Group (LSG), from which we split in January 2006. Leaving the LSG was for us a painful but absolutely necessary decision. The LSG was broken apart by the profound divisions in the group, not just at the level of individual personalities (although there were plenty of divisions there too!), but most importantly at the political level. In particular, there was no explicit consensus within the LSG about the meaning of collectivity. This meant that the group looked robust from the outside but in reality was very fragile. During the autumn and winter of 2005 there were some disputes within the LSG. These started off being about relatively minor practicalities, such as putting links on the website or disseminating particular political statements. But they quickly escalated into a major battle over the whole meaning and purpose of the group, because there had never been any explicit agreement about those things in the first place. One LSG member in particular argued that it was not necessary for the group as a whole to have any collective identity or shared project: he just wanted it to be what he called "an umbrella group" of individuals who would use the name "London Surrealist Group" as some kind of brand name or flag of convenience. To those of us who formed SLAG, this was completely unacceptable and a violation of one of the most basic principles of Surrealist activity. We expected the rest of the LSG to join in the argument at this point, to express their own views on what collectivity means for a Surrealist group, and more particularly to back us up in our insistence that a Surrealist group should be more than just a disparate bunch of self-sufficient (and self-serving) individuals. To our surprise and disgust, no-one else expressed any views about it at all: there was simply silence. Apparently they were either too apathetic to have an opinion or too afraid of an argument to express one. After several months of bitterness and wrangling between us on one side and our lone opponent on the other, with no-one else having the guts to take a position on what seemed to us to be the most basic of issues for Surrealists, Paul Cross, Jill Fenton and Merl all left the LSG to set up SLAG.

We occasionally receive messages from a certain member of the LSG referring to "unresolved issues" between the two groups. We do not have any unresolved issues! For us, all issues were resolved by our departure from the group. We have achieved far more in the six months since we founded SLAG than any of us could have hoped to have achieved either in the LSG or as self-sufficient individuals. In particular we have been able to deal with our internal political differences and debates in a genuinely constructive, that is, dialectical, manner, and to publish our political views without having to wade through the treacle of other members' political ignorance and apathy. Although the LSG has not made any public political statements since the split, their recent communiqués give the impression that they have recently developed a more explicit political outlook, insofar as they are using their publications to promote the activities of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)! Most of the British Left rightly regard the SWP as unprincipled opportunists, not least for their accommodation (under the aegis of the Respect Party) of religious organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. SLAG's specifically Surrealist opposition to the SWP would take too long to go into here: we shall discuss it in another posting if necessary.

Nevertheless, despite the seriousness of our differences with the LSG, we bear them no personal ill will, and we have been happy to see them continue their own form of Surrealist activities. Indeed we participated with pleasure in their recent mass dérive, not least because we think that all and any forms of Surrealist activity, in London and elsewhere, should be wholeheartedly and collectively supported. From their refusal to participate in any of our public activities (including the whole of the London International Festival of Surrealism as well as the Capitulus LVI international détournement game), we take it that they do not share this position. That is their choice. For our part, SLAG's uncompromising commitment to Surrealism, to international solidarity and collaboration, to freedom, love, eroticism, poetic materialism, Revolution, and the pursuit of the Marvellous, is as all-consuming as ever.

August 2006

Monday, July 17, 2006


The London International Festival of Surrealism came to a close on Sunday 9th July. The response to the Festival has been fantastic -- even better than we had hoped. We would like to thank of all you who have taken part with such enthusiasm and excitement, and also to thank those of you who have already begun to send us your results and reports from around the world.

We are now starting to collate the texts, images, photos, objects, etc. that the Festival has generated into the Festival album. This album will be distributed in the form of a CD and will be available free to all contributors. Please note that it will only be available to contributors -- in other words, if you would like a copy of the album, you must contribute something to it yourself. We have chosen to make this stipulation as a continuation of the DIY spirit of the Festival itself: neither the Festival nor the album are designed for the passive consumption of those who have not taken part.

We will be pleased to receive all kinds of contributions arising from the Festival, whether they have arisen from the games we distributed beforehand, your own autonomous play, or any other kind of Surrealist activity which took place during the Festival period (26th June - 9th July 2006). Contributions should be emailed to us at If you are intending to send a very large file, please check with us first about the file size so that you can be sure of getting it to us safely through our mail server. Alternatively we can supply a postal address on request. We will be happy to receive material in any format (PC/Mac compatibility issues permitting -- again, if in doubt please check with us first), and the material does not necessarily have to be in English (although translations would be appreciated wherever possible).

The deadline for getting your material to us is Friday 1st September 2006.

The most important part of the Festival was the poetic experiences it brought forth, rather than the texts, images or other "outputs" that resulted from that experience. Creating material for the album on the basis of your Festival activities should be a pleasure, not just another chore on your "to do" list. Indeed the two weeks of the Festival were merely an intensification of our usual playful pleasures: what made the Festival "special" in that sense was not that it was going to generate a lot of texts or images or "work" in any sense, but simply that it gave us all an opportunity to play collectively on a wider international scale than ever before, and to focus our attention on daily play a little more explicitly than we might otherwise have done. Play, poetry and the pursuit of the Marvellous are not just special treats for Festival time. They are the stuff of everyday Surrealist life. Change life, transform the world!

Monday, July 10, 2006


PORTRAIT OF JACK THE RIPPER for the London International Festival of Surrealism, by Paul Cross (Surrealist London Action Group)



Box of dreams by Alexandre Fatta:

La droga de cada noche by Enrique Lechuga:

Mr Tornade tient le fil by David Nadeau:

Untitled poem by Dominic Tétrault:

La maligne torpeur des éléments
Jointe aux bijoux vulgaires de la compréhension
Activement en contemplation
Récure le fond du ciel
En petit maillon secs
Pour le rebord de l’éternelle castration jubilatoire

Le moment choisi pour l’action se perpétue
En signes glauques qui purgent le ciment du céleste
Entre les omoplates et le cervelet
En pierres rougeoyantes
Pour les éclats supérieurs
En manches de robe
Et le calvaire des civilisations
Accoutumées à leur présence sans sacrilèges grivois

L’éperon du désir en pointe fine avec le sauvage
Capture le limon en courbe féline et boîte complexe
Sous forme capitonnée de la membrane ensanglantée

Le vouloir de la chair est surtout en phase
Avec le rêve bleu et rouge transformant
Si le cœur est en acceptation

(Québec, 25 mars 2006)

Malicious torpor of the elements
Joined to the vulgar jewels of comprehension
Actively in contemplation
Scour the bottom of the sky
In tiny and dry link
For the edge of the eternal joyful castration

The moment chosen for the action remains
In shady signs which purge the concrete of the celestial
Between the scapulas and the cerebellum
In rusting stones
For the higher glares
In dress cufflinks
And the martyrdom of civilizations
Accustomed with their presence without bawdy sacrileges

The spur of the desire spiking with the wilderness
Capture the silt in feline curve and complex box
In upholstered form of the bloody membrane

The willingness of flesh is especially in phase
With the transforming blue and red dream
If the heart is in acceptance

(Quebec, 25th March 2006)

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Portrait of Jack the Ripper
for the London International Festival of Surrealism
by Leandro Ramírez
(Surrealist Group of Río de la Plata)

Portrait of Jack the Ripper
for the London International Festival of Surrealism
by Merl
(Surrealist London Action Group)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


An extra bryant in the may
Went ginger in the beer time evian
On perfectly clear golden sprite
Virginia salad rizzla'ed smoking kills
Pure, still water of the Fentimans
Cutters choice the duty paid
Debbie Shaw

Square December
draws a portrait of midnight that
Rizzla collects them from Jack the Ripper
by the antelopes of the
Silver Spring
Salad makes a froissage drawing with
matches and a giant
Perfectly clear tries to smooth it out again
but December
arteries take a blank piece of
upend before serving it to
fermented botanical ginger drink that
crumples it into
herbal extracts
found in the street by the alley
Molinari that is
smoothed out by a
handy box
Jill Fenton

heart strokes,
revolutionary reasons,
emotional mirror or
perfectly clear
highland wildlife

perfectly clear
still water
freshens my mouth on this summer
evening of joy
Nacho Diaz

Saturday, July 01, 2006


The attempt to conjure Spring-Heeled Jack ...

... was successful.

A full report will appear in the album of the London International Festival of Surrealism, to be published and distributed later this year.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Monday 26th June till Sunday 9th July

..... poetry must be made by all .....

invites you to join
Pearl Handel and Spring-Heeled Jack
in their ongoing quest to


Sunday, June 18, 2006



The police shot one of my neighbours a couple of weeks ago. People around here are pretty pissed off about it, and this afternoon hundreds of us attended a protest march through our local area in Forest Gate, east London.

At 4 a.m. on 2nd June, 250 armed police turned up in a residential street around the corner from my house. Fifty of them broke into one family's home, terrorised the inhabitants, shot 23-year-old Mohammed Abdul Kahar in the chest as he came downstairs in his night-clothes, and arrested him and his brother Abdul Koyair on suspicion of terrorism. Their next-door neighbours were also terrorised, assaulted, handcuffed and humiliated during the raid. Mohammed Abdul Kahar's family home was later trashed by police looking for chemical weapons. Both he and his brother were eventually released without charge. As one of the placards at today's demonstration drily put it, "No WMDs in Iraq, no WMDs in Forest Gate."

Billed in the publicity flyers as a "United Communities' Protest March", the demonstration boasted a great diversity of participants: multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-faith, and -- here's the rub of it -- of (almost) every political persuasion. As a show of solidarity with those who were assaulted on 2nd June, this diversity was impressive. But as a political tactic to oppose state racism and violence, the indiscriminate mixing of the march's official political supporters was at best misguided. The friends, neighbours and families both of Mohammed Abdul Kahar, too ill to attend the demonstration himself, and of Jean Charles de Menezes, shot to death by ("anti-") terrorist police last year, all spoke movingly at the rally of their suffering and their fight for justice. They found themselves sharing the platform with an ragbag of activists, hacks and professional politicians, from the local Conservatives to the Respect Party, from Hizb ut Tahrir to the Stop the War Coalition. This apparently disparate political bunch managed to find some things in common: their shameless opportunism, and their inherent opposition to revolutionary change and genuine freedom alike. This was reinforced by the march organisers' insistence that "a peaceful demonstration underlines our community values" and that marchers should behave themselves accordingly. For some of the marchers, those "community values" included gender segregation, with a sizeable proportion of the march placing men at the front and women at the back in a display of patriarchal power which the march as a whole did nothing to condemn, to say the least. Certainly none of those "community values" included any acts of physical or verbal insurrection as we were shepherded through the streets and past Forest Gate Police Station by the march stewards and, er, the police. Peaceful marches, community rallies, barnstorming speeches delivered to well behaved audiences: it was all just playing the game of liberal democracy, a game which politically underpins global capitalism, encouraging us to "enjoy" our state-endowed "right" to peaceful protest when we should be enjoying freedoms of an altogether more torrential nature.

A few hundred metres from Forest Gate police station, I was jolted back to surreality by a group of mannequins in a shop window, startlingly naked, full-frontal, pressing themselves up against the glass, leering at us suggestively as we respectably passed by. It was all too obvious what those mannequins were after: if they had had their way we would all have been as naked as they were, taking over Romford Road not with a "peaceful community demonstration" but with the fantastical eroticism of imaginations in revolt. They subjected us to their uncanny gaze from behind the window pane. How much longer until they come to life and smash their way out?

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Monday 26th June to Sunday 9th July

in London and many other locations
in the UK and internationally

A series of Surrealist games, experiments and activities will be conducted, including:


and many more ...

To receive further details of the Festival and rubrics for each game, please contact the Surrealist London Action Group.


Surrealist London is a city that will always remain to be invented.

Friday, June 02, 2006


The visual image is no longer an effectively revolutionary tool for Surrealism. This point has been made by the Surrealist Group in Madrid in The False Mirror, an essay first circulated in 2000. This essay presents a rigorous diagnosis of the situation of Surrealism in contemporary media-culture. It argues that visual images now mediate experience so completely that the visual image in itself has become an instrument of alienation, including alienation from the subversive power of imagination. The contradiction between the real and the imaginary has disappeared, to be replaced not by the transformation of life and the world which Surrealism proposed, but rather by the passivity, alienation and subjection which total mediation and simulation produce. Therefore, according to this essay, it is no longer either sufficient or possible to oppose any kind of Surrealist visual imaginary to that of capitalism, since images are now the tools of domination, and any “subversive” imagery is instantly banalised. Visual creativity remains no less essential than any other kind at the level of the individual, small group or potlatch, but at the level of the social no visual product can now have any revolutionary effect or be anything more than just another image sliding across the screen of media-culture.

The consequences of this analysis for Surrealist praxis are profound, as the essay itself goes on to highlight. The forms of visual communication which Surrealists have historically used and continue to use, notably exhibitions and visually oriented publications, no longer have revolutionary value, not just because of the well-worn failings of the category of "art" as such, but now even more profoundly because all such visual products have been degraded into just another cultural consumable. The historic task now facing Surrealism is therefore to invent new forms of communication – a task which is by its nature prefigurative, since it constitutes a search for “a utopian outline of a future poetic language”. And in pursuit of this task Surrealism cannot rely on its heritage or assume that the same methods and practices which have been effective in the past will continue to be so today. In short, Surrealism must renew and even reinvent itself by plunging forward into the unknown. The essay ends by suggesting that this plunge will be a plunge into poetic materialism: a making concrete of the poetic image which brings the imaginary and the real into a dialectical relationship, not by the production of Surrealist images but in the poetics of everyday life as realised through practical activities and experiments:

“what we denominate poetic materialism would be an imaginative current that transforms the reality of being, a temperamental flow that remodels the forms of reality that it wants to transform: it would be resolved in the field of immediate action, letting itself be accompanied by the pleasure principle.”

Examples given in the essay of this poetic materialism include psychogeographical games and experiments, dérives, the Objectively Offered Object, and other forms of “metamorphic actionism” which were already being practised in 2000, and which Surrealists have continued to practise ever since, sometimes indeed under the explicit rubric of poetic materialism. However it must be acknowledged that the old-style exhibitions and publications have also continued to appear (and we ourselves have in some cases continued to participate in them). To that extent we can therefore conclude that the implications of The False Mirror have yet to be fully assimilated by contemporary Surrealists, and perhaps that they have not yet even been discussed or debated in sufficient depth. If the conclusions put forward in that essay are taken seriously, then Surrealism must make considerable efforts in the direction of both practical activity and political-theoretical analysis in order to become an effective revolutionary force in the face of material conditions very different from those prevailing in 1924.

The reinvention of Surrealism as poetic materialism means not just facing up to new problems, but also abandoning old ones to which some Surrealists today (again, ourselves sometimes included) still cling as if to a security blanket. For example, the meaning of the occultation of Surrealism, which in 1930 was simply avoiding public approval, must now go further and encompass the total refusal to mediate poetic experience. One of the implications of this is that the problem of how to “spread the word”, to correct “misrepresentations of Surrealism”, or to “get our message across” to an ignorant and alienated public is no longer at issue. In a world where the medium is the message and all messages are ipso facto mediated, “spreading the word” can only ever mean adding to the depthless babble of media-culture information. In this context, while not being heard amidst the babble is a failure to communicate, to be heard in that babble is already to have been banalised and hence is also a failure to communicate. Rather than thinking in terms of “spreading the word”, we need to start thinking in terms of engaging in more effective practices; to stop thinking of Surrealism as a discourse and to concentrate on its importance as an activity; to stop trying to “get the message across” by the propaganda of word and image, and to concentrate instead on the propaganda of the deed.

Another old “problem” whose importance needs to be re-assessed is that of the status and value of digital art, which at certain points during the last few years has generated some heat within the movement. Many of the objections to computer-generated visual productions have centred around the supposedly poor quality and ineffectiveness of such work as Surrealist images. But if the analysis presented in The False Mirror is correct, then there is no longer any such thing as an effective Surrealist visual image anyway, and the controversy is in that sense redundant. However from the point of view of poetic materialism computers may have a potential for effective Surrealist experimentation, particularly in the direction of the anti-anthropocentrism which has been one of the genuinely path-breaking new turns of recent Surrealism. If, in the words of The False Mirror, “the experience of the unconscious is the experience of Surrealism”, then this leaves us with the new problem of how to reinvent the experience the Unconscious so as not to limit it to any pre-given or anthropocentric notions of what constitutes the human. What is the dynamic unconscious life of animals? of objects? And if these questions are promising ones for Surrealist enquiry, then shouldn’t the unconscious life of that class of objects known as computers also be included? The potential value of computers and/or digital works for poetic materialism therefore lies not in the quality of the images themselves, which may or may not be as bad as everyone says, but rather in the experiments that computers may allow us to conduct in anti-anthropocentrism, in non-human forms of perception and non-human experiences of the Unconscious.

It is important to be clear that we are offering neither promises nor proscriptions in the name of poetic materialism. Neither we nor our comrades in Madrid are suggesting, for example, that Surrealists should stop creating visual images. We continue to accord supreme value to the free and spontaneous imagination in all its manifestations, including visual creativity; we are simply demanding a more realistic assessment of what such creations can achieve at the level of the social simply by virtue of being images. Nor are we suggesting that games and experiments of the type put forward under the rubric of poetic materialism will solve all problems at a stroke. When one plunges forward into the unknown, one does so without guarantees, and if one continues to orient oneself around familiar landmarks – Sade, Breton, magic, anarchism, love, eroticism, freedom and all the others – one must be prepared to ask first which of them really can still be relied upon nowadays and which must be abandoned as misleading mirages from the past. Above all, in asserting the strategic necessity of experiments in practical revolutionary Surrealism, we must be cognisant of the force of the unknown which lies behind the concept of the experiment. An experiment, by definition, never fails: it merely tells us something we neither knew nor expected in advance.